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“He’s a savant. That’s the only way I can say it.” Those are the words of Tee Martin, quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens, from an interview with Washington Post sportswriter Adam Kilgore. Martin, who among others has sat in the quarterbacks’ room with Peyton Manning, was describing the great Lamar Jackson. His description has relevance well beyond football.

At the same time, it’s useful to start with football. It’s easily the most cerebral game in existence, and quarterback is by far the most cerebral position. If you doubt this, simply purchase or pick up from the library Peter King’s 1993 book, Inside the Helmet. Book in hand, read the chapter on then-Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, and the countless defensive reads Esiason had to make in split seconds before snapping the ball. Keep in mind that this was 1993, literally and figuratively another century in terms of offensive and defensive intricacies.

If dropped into a Ravens huddle today, it’s no insight to say that the game’s complications would make what Esiason mastered appear first grade relative to Jackson’s college-level calculus. Thank goodness Jackson is a genius. Without a savant-like ability to process voluminous amounts of information within seconds, including an otherworldly ability to know where every player on the field (offense and defense) should be at all times, Jackson wouldn’t be the superstar that he is. They’re all great athletes in professional sports, but Jackson and others who thrive at his level (New England Patriots greats Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Randy Moss were similarly thought to have savant-like football knowledge) separate themselves with their minds.

It’s something to think about in terms of where we’re headed. The view here, and one expressed in my 2018 book The End of Work, is that no one is lazy or stupid. Instead, a slow-growth economy rendered sluggish by a lack of productivity tragically suffocates a lot of genius. Jackson, Brady, Gronkowski, Moss et al loom large here. Wonderful as football is, those who play the game professionally won’t cure pancreatic cancer with their genius, nor is the purchase of a ticket to a Ravens game the same as the purchase of shares in some would-be software innovator. Football on the professional and collegiate level is an effect of economic productivity. A beautiful effect.

Figure that 100 years ago vanishingly few could hope to make a living in football as a player or coach, and then as recently as the 1970s football savant Bill Belichick toiled as a $25/week NFL assistant. Back then, players and coaches not infrequently had offseason jobs that helped pay for their passion.

The great news is that in a world defined by relentless technological advance, including AI/robotic advances that some expect will automate away staggering amounts of work formerly done by humans, the days of unique genius are in their infancy. Automation of so much that humans used to do won’t put us out of work as much as it will unleash the Lamar Jackson that is within all of us. We all have genius-like qualities, but machines that think and do for us weren’t destroying old forms of work fast enough such that we could pursue narrow specialties that uniquely elevate us. If AI’s promise is real, so will be real the explosion of myriad rare forms of intelligence that will have promising market applications in ways they don’t now.

Keep all of this in mind as conservatives strangely train their worried focus on universities that are supposedly “indoctrinating” the talented of tomorrow. The fear is so overdone. While the babies of the babies being born today will likely always pursue college as a way of achieving exclusive designations, commercial advances are set to render the “education” taking place at universities even more behind the times than it is now. Which is the point.

Technology is poised to rapidly outrun dumb ideas as Ken Fisher has long pointed out, and the speed with which it will outrun faddish notions means that education will prove unequal to the brilliant advances that free individuals to be the best version of themselves. Lamar Jackson is a modern example of what exponentially more of us will be like in the future as technology frees us from all the work and knowledge acquisition that needlessly rendered us lazy and stupid.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, President of the Parkview Institute, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book, set for release in April of 2024 and co-authored with Jack Ryan, is Bringing Adam Smith Into the American Home: A Case Against Homeownership

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